In my 2015 review of Unfriended I expressed concern that more films like it would follow. In fact, I wrote: “Lets hope that it’s a flash-in-the-pan that doesn’t spawn sequels or copycats because one is quite enough.” Of course, I knew them words to be futile, and unbeknownst to me at the time, there was another similarly themed British movie being made, Cyberbully, starring Maisie Williams (Game Of Thrones).
A teenage girl, Casey (Williams), sits in the comfort of her bedroom, engaged in an online chat with her best friend. When she discovers that a false story about her has been shared on Twitter, she enlists the help of a tech-savvy friend to hack into the culprit’s account and exact a swift revenge. Within moments she is confronted by an anonymous person who heralds themselves to be a defender of cyber bully victims. Uncertain of the person’s identity, she finds herself engaged in an ambiguous discussion that soon descends into a dangerous game where nothing is what it seems.
The film opens from the perspective of web-cams and pop-up screens, the same narrative device used by Unfriended. I won’t lie: the very thought of another film relying solely on this single premise was wearisome. To hear the constant “boing” and “bleep” sounds of instant messages and notifications was enough to drive me crazy (sounds that torment me at home ordinarily, as any fellow parent of a teen will attest). And so it was a huge relief when the film abandoned the concept and reverted to a traditional 3rd-person perspective.
To reveal more would be to spoil the film. Suffice it to say, the story takes place in one room and relies heavily on the strength of Williams’ performance. It is a one-person drama that recalls the suspense of classic Hitchcockian thrillers and attempts to entertain its audience while imposing an overt cautionary tale to its target demographic of teenage viewers.
Supposedly conceived by real-life cyberbully stories, writer/director Ben Chanan turned his fatherly concerns of online predators into a script, which he further fashioned into a compelling drama turned thriller. Produced for television, the film runs for a paltry 60 minutes, which amounts to an episode of most TV programs, and in fact it would have qualified as a credible episode of Black Mirror, were it not produced independently. Fortunately, the short running time benefits the story, which would have become an arduous affair had it gone any longer. Williams commands the screen and holds the viewer’s attention for the entire duration. She taps into the everyday teenage persona effortlessly, and relies upon her own personal experience with Internet trolls to evoke the emotions required. The dialogue does become hokey at times, and the computer’s artificial text-to-speech pattern often slips into unrealistic emotional cues; its tone becomes stern and angry at times, which detracts from the realism of the story. Nevertheless, the overall situation remains plausible, and its message to vulnerable teenagers is strong.
Bound by Williams’ competent performance, Cyberbully focuses more on the real-life implications of online bullying as opposed to the horrific and fanciful tropes employed by Unfriended, and results in a thoroughly engaging slice of drama. Cyberbullying is already a hot button topic so having movies that shine a light on the subject is, of course, important. If you would like to learn more about the topic you can click here and check out the information on the serious issue.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10